“At long last, no Member of the House of Representatives is permitted to pay their staff poverty wages. As of September 1, every staff person in the House of Representatives must be paid at least $45,000 a year, which meets the living wage in high cost Washington, DC,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress. “We applaud the House staff who have spoken out in support of a living wage for their colleagues, the Members of Congress who advocated for a pay floor, and Speaker Pelosi and House leadership for establishing this common-sense requirement that removes personal wealth as a precondition for public service. We urge the Senate to join the House and establish a $45,000 pay floor for all staff.”
It is easy to imagine that the way the House of Representatives is run now is how it has been run in the past. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In the history of the House of Representatives, the Speaker has been all-powerful and virtually powerless; the president has run the House and has been run by the House; legislation enacted by the chamber has reflected the views of a majority of the House, reflected the views of the majority party, and reflected the views of just a handful; work was done by all the members in the committee of the whole and divvied up among the committees; power was centered in the floor leader, the speaker, the party caucus, the full chamber, the rules committee, and no one.
It is not too much to say that the rules of the chamber reflect efforts by its members to have and retain power and to address the problems that arise when members who desired power could not obtain and use it. Fights over the rules, and the leadership of the House itself, have at times consumed weeks of deliberations on the House floor — where the chamber is run under general parliamentary law until a package was drafted that could be adopted by the full chamber.
I’ve been looking at the history and development of the House by reading some of the leading experts and have started to put together a summary of the eras of control of the House of Representatives. This is a working document and likely contains inaccuracies, overstatements, and many other issues. But I thought it might be of interest to you so I’m publishing a live version of the working document below.Continue reading “Eras of Control of the House of Representatives”
This week, recess continues.
Last week saw two big announcements from the White House: (1) the partial student loan forgiveness program, which incidentally could help 2,000 staffers (or more!) on the hill, and (2) making federally-funded research free and publicly available, which will improve the availability of information for policymaking deliberations.
You didn’t ask us, but congressional student loan repayment assistance should be centrally administered, available to all regardless of the view of a particular member, and not subject to clawback if a staffer moves on.
Pay your interns. On the topic of centrally administered programs — did you like that segue? — check this opinion piece from my colleague Taylor Swift and Pay Our Intern’s Habiba Mohamed that calls for the creation of a House Intern Resource Office.
Mark your calendars. The Library of Congress announced its next virtual public forum on Congress.gov will be held this September 21 from 1:30 to 4:30 PM. To attend you must RSVP online. The Library also has an online feedback form for those who wish to submit comments individually. See you there.
They’re running. Reps. Jamie Raskin, Gerry Connolly, and Steven Lynch have all announced they’re running to succeed Rep. Carolyn Maloney as top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. This committee, which grew out of the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments, and itself was created from 11 separate House committees that oversaw government spending, is rooted in House committee efforts to oversee federal spending that go back at least to 1814.
Whistleblower powers. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced legislation last week, the Congress Leads by Example Act of 2022 (H.R. 8743), to grant Legislative branch employees greater whistleblower and other antidiscrimination protections for occupational safety and health complaints. The bill would put into effect recommendations from the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights to:
- Bring the Legislative branch in line with the legal requirements of private sector employers and the Executive branch;
- Provide subpoena authority to OCWR to conduct inspections and investigations into OSHA violations;
- Prohibit Legislative branch offices from making adverse employment decisions on the basis of an employee’s wage garnishment or involvement in bankruptcy proceedings; and
- Bolster the CAA’s recordkeeping requirements.
It’s still recess, with two weeks until the Senate reconvenes and the House has a committee work week.
House and Senate Security Manuals are now publicly available thanks to litigation brought by journalist Shawn Musgrave. The House and Senate resisted the effort, brought under a common law right of access, and only ceded ground after it became apparent that their assertions to the court were incongruent with the facts.
↣ White House pushing back against Congress’s oversight authority
↣ Clearances, classified information, and the Espionage Act
↣ Updating the ADA regs that apply to Congress
The House and Senate Security Manuals have been the focus of litigation between journalist Shawn Musgrave and the House and the Senate. Musgrave is litigating whether a common law right of access exists for congressional documents, and he is ably represented by Kel McClanahan of National Security Counselors. He recently had a big win.Continue reading “House and Senate Security Manuals Now Publicly Available”
Recess. Barring emergencies, Congress is out until September. On Friday, the House passed the reconciliation package — the Inflation Reduction Act — which now goes to Pres. Biden for signature. The process by which this legislation was considered and enacted underscores the importance of allowing a bare majority to work its will and the structural problems that hamper majoritarian rule and force legislation to the political right.
Should congressional staff have a $45,000 minimum wage? If you poll voters, majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans agree that there should be a minimum salary floor for all congressional staffers according to a new Data for Progress poll. In fact, of likely voters, 56 percent support a pay floor while only 30 percent oppose. While the House has put in place a pay order setting the minimum wage at $45k, the Senate has increased funding available to offices but has not instantiated a minimum pay requirement.
↣ Rising incidents of political violence, part of America’s long history of violence
↣ Securing member communications
↣ Congress’s oversight powers work in theory, but not in practice
We just finished reading The Field of Blood, a book focused on violence in Congress in the lead up to the Civil War. Did you know that, according to the author, between 1830 and 1860 “there were more than seventy violent incidents between congressmen in the House and Senate chambers or on nearby streets and dueling grounds?”Continue reading “Incivility”
This week. It’s recess-ish. The Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act reconciliation package over the weekend and the House is expected to briefly reconvene on Friday, August 12 to pass that legislation and perhaps a few other bills.
The events of the past week highlight that normal spending processes rarely go by the book; that ethics and accountability issues still plague Congress and the Executive branch; and that Congress plays a role in foreign diplomacy. More below.
We did the legwork on Leg branch approps. Please see our list of every notable policy provision in the Senate Leg Branch Approps bill that relates to congressional capacity, transparency, and accountability, and also a list of select civil society recommendations incorporated into the draft bill and accompanying report.
The Congressional Workers’ Union announced its interim board last week. Congrats to all Board members: Philip Bennett, Emma Preston, Courtney Rose Laudick, Kyle Decant, Taylor Doggett, Saul Levin, Mason Pesek, Courtney Koelbel, Alexander Gristina, Jessica Schieder, Janae Washington, and Leigh Whittaker.Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for August 8, 2022: It’s recess?”
On Thursday, July 28, 2022, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy published 12 appropriations bills and accompanying explanatory statements, including the FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations bill and explanatory statement. These measures will not go through the traditional hearing and mark-up process. The bill and explanatory statement are packed with good government reforms and significant investments in Congressional operations.
We and our civil society colleagues recommended dozens of items to include — see our FY 2023 Appropriations requests, FY 2023 appropriations testimony, and report on updating House Rules for the 117th Congress — a number of which made it into the bill and report. We are deeply appreciative of Chair Jack Reed, Ranking Member Mike Braun, and members of the committee for their consideration of our requests.
- Resources on prior Legislative Branch Appropriations bills;
- Summaries of the FY 2023 House version, including
- Changes in the appropriations line items
There are a few provisions in the Senate Legislative Branch Subcommittee bill and explanatory statement to note as the Senate is now moving through its appropriations process. They include:
- Strong investments in staff pay and benefits, including an increase in the SOPOEA to allow Senators to pay their full-time staff a $45,000 salary minimum, as well as the creation of a bipartisan diversity and inclusion working group.
- More resources for improving legislative branch access to Executive branch information, including the creation of a new joint CBO, LOC, and GAO working group to examine the issues of legislative data access between the Legislative branch and Executive branch agencies.
- Heightened funding for congressional operations, including creating a centralized repository for Senate documents where legislative information would be available prior to or contemporaneously with decisions; enhancing tracking of legislation on Congress.gov; improved floor scheduling information on Congress.gov; as well as improving reporting of lobbyists’ activities.
On Thursday, July 28, 2022, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy published 12 appropriations bills and accompanying explanatory statements, including the FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations bill and explanatory statement.
To help keep track of all explanatory statement items requested by the Senate Legislative Branch Subcommittee, we built a public spreadsheet that maintains a catalog of items, broken down by title, the entity responsible, the timeline for completion, and the due date. See the spreadsheet here and below: